Jesse James Unchained (2022) Review
Jesse James Unchained opens with a voiceover talking about the good and evil in all of us and claiming Jesse James is only considered to have been evil because he fought for the Confederacy. That point is accompanied by footage of Union troops bloodily shooting a fleeing man in the back. You don’t think the film has any bias, do you?
We then cut to a conversation between Frank (Joe Kidd, Boggy Creek – The Bigfoot Series, Ouija Room) and Jesse (John Bradley Hambrick, Ragmork, Scarecrow County). Frank is ready to settle down before he eats a bullet, and Jesse isn’t as concerned about that.
Or at least I think he isn’t. It’s hard to be sure because several of his responses are almost impossible to understand, something that will be a problem throughout the film as Hambrick seems to have a problem speaking loud enough to be heard. In any case, the brothers part ways and we next see Jesse confronting someone over using his name in their own robberies.
This somehow leads to footage of a small grass fire, CGI flames imposed over a picture of a forest and Jesse walking through the unburnt countryside and having flashbacks to a Civil War reenactment with a parking lot full of busses in the background. But then considering that there’s no attempt to hide the modern, mass-produced clothes and props in the film what was in the background probably didn’t matter. In fact, Jesse James Unchained is right up there with The Siege of Robin Hood when it comes to chronic failure to even try to make the film look historically accurate.
The plot, for what it’s worth, involves Jesse being caught by Belle (Rachael Redolfi, Haunted House on Sorority Row, Calamity Jane’s Revenge) a female bounty hunter. She cuffs him to her and, of course, the key goes missing. This is a problem because the three partners of the man he shot earlier, Toothless John (Keith Tomlin, The Hidden Persuaders, Nothing Good Ever Happens), Mitt (Eric Widing, Homo Alone, Babysitter Massacre) and Red (John French, Evil Takes Root, Maggie Shayne’s Embrace the Twilight) want him dead before he kills them or gives away their secret.
This could have worked as a comedic western with Jesse and Belle trading barbs as they try to avoid getting shot by the real villains. It’s not an original plot, but it is a perfectly serviceable one that I’m fairly sure that writer John Oak Dalton (Reel Monsters, The Girl in the Crawlspace) could pull off.
Instead, he and director Henrique Couto (Amityville: No Escape, Devil’s Trail) serve up a lot of dull dialogue and the occasional pointless flashback to Frank and Jesse’s outlaw days. Jesse James Unchained seems more concerned with mythologizing Jesse and the Confederacy than actually telling a story or being entertaining. Jesse is presented as an honest criminal whose only real misdeed was killing a man he mistook for the Union officer who cut the finger off of one of Jesse’s friends to steal a ring he wore. His part in the Centralia Massacre is completely overlooked as are those he killed during his robberies.
Compounding the script’s issues is the incredibly low production values on display here. There wasn’t any money for sets so the characters wander around in the woods most of the time. And I do mean wander because nobody has a horse. I try to take the issues of filming on a microbudget into account when I review films like Jesse James Unchained, but if you’re making a western and can’t afford to rent horses you may want to reconsider your plans.
Fans of revisionist history, especially those who talk about “The War of Northern Aggression” may find something to like in Jesse James Unchained. Most others will be bored. ITN has released Jesse James Unchained to Digital platforms including Tubi. But even for free this isn’t worth the price.